So… a few weeks ago, I finally broke down and got a Facebook account.
After having spent some time filling in all the little “tidbits about me,”1 and more or less trying to interact with… “it” over the past couple of weeks, I’ve decided I don’t really grok Facebook.
The first thing I noticed about Facebook is that it is very… SYN-ACK heavy.
When you friend someone, it notifies them… which makes sense. But then they have this secondary round where you can let people know how you know the person. If you met through someone, who did meet through? (And do they have a Facebook account?!) If you’re in a relationship, when did you meet and how serious was it?
So… maybe you’re bored and you fill that out too, right? But then it’ll send that to the other person, and ask them to cancel or allow. I understand why they do it, but it seems like each “friending” is this arduous process of negotiating back and forth how to publicly portray your connection to other people.
The second thing I noticed are the weird… “mini-apps.” Like the “poking” feature. If you haven’t used Facebook, you can poke people. They will be notified that you poked them when they log in again. When you get poked, you can poke back, or remove/ignore the poke.
That’s… all it does. And I just don’t get it.
The labyrinthine permissions model/system/UI the site uses isn’t… great either. Now, I consider myself to be a pretty technical guy,2 and… I mostly understand what permissions I set when I set them, but… I don’t really understand what an actual person can see on an actual particular page of the site. So I still don’t quite know if random people can see that I have “airplanes” listed under the “Fetishes” section, or I have to friend them first.
I also don’t quite get the “clouds” by which they organize people (school, business, etc.) I understand that this made sense in a collegiate environment, where the site has its roots, but their application of the concept to, say, geographical locales… doesn’t quite translate. You can only be a member of one particular geographical “cloud,” and you can only change like twice in sixty days. Ok, fine, but then they have three areas for the Bay Area: “San Francisco,” “East Bay,” and “Silicon Valley.”
It’s quite reasonable to be a member of the “Silicon Valley” and “San Francisco” groups—thinking commuters here—but there’s no way to express that in Facebook.3
Which leads to conversations like this, which I just had tonight with a longtime-friend-but-new-(too)-Facebook-er:
(21:50:20) midendian: so what is the common practice on facebook?
(21:50:28) midendian: do you friend everyone you’ve ever talked to like myspace and lj?
(21:50:35) mrjohnreen: or just people you want to know?
(21:50:40) midendian: or is there supposed to be some relationship, like linkedin
(21:50:43) midendian: oh
(21:50:49) mrjohnreen: hah
(21:50:51) mrjohnreen: I don’t really know
(21:50:55) midendian: i can’t figure out the dynamic. it’s bizarre.
I really can’t either.
My friend pointed out that, unlike Flickr or LiveJournal, Facebook doesn’t really have any medium to moderate the interaction; I can read/enjoy someone’s [public] photos and posts on those other sites, but as my friend put it, “facebook, etc, are all about being friends/whatever.” And the ambiguity of the “whatever” is… just confusing for an old Web one-dot-oh-guy, like me.
The site also tends to do everything it can to keep you hooked into it… well… all day. It doesn’t seem to support things like emailing you when changes occur or provide RSS feeds, so you could see what your friends were updating without… y’know, going to the site. A particular pet peeve of mine is something Gerv expounded upon: the “emails about emails and other messages” you get. Facebook will tell you someone’s sent you a message via email, but “oh… you wanted to read it? No, no, no… you need to log in for that.”
This is understandable from a business perspective, but it’s disconcerting, because we basically have a generation of Internet users that don’t remember services any other way. It’s completely reasonable to them that they should be forced to stay logged/locked into a particular site (that has obvious network effects) all day.
The youngins seem to like it this way, though?
During my recent trip, I was talking to a 17 year old girl—who has friended me on Facebook—about various things, and I asked her if she had a MySpace page, and she looked at me as if I had farted in fourth period French. She quickly responded “Oh, no, no, no. I have a Facebook page.”
I figured at some point, I’d become too old to understand what the “high schoolers” these days were in to… but I must admit, I never thought it would be a social networking application (of all things) that confused me. More personally disconcerting, though, is that what I think I find most confusing is the style in which Facebook models social interactions.
I can’t tell if it’s weirdness with Facebook’s implementation, or if socio-digital4 interactions have changed in such a way that I just don’t grok them anymore.
If anyone can explain it to me… well… poke me on Facebook.
1 My (first) favorite quotation is: “When you’re filling out your Friendster profile, it says ‘Give other people a chance to find out how you’re unique,’ and the second question in that list is ‘What’s your favorite television program?’”
2 And maybe that’s the problem?
3 Admittedly, this may be an implementation detail, but… they have yet to fix it, and I don’t even know if they consider it to be a problem.
4 I just made that word up. Think I can get someone to give me a research grant?!